One brilliant Carolina win streak came to an end, and another extended this past week. The North Carolina Tar Heels soccer teams are midway through the gauntlet of ACC competition and there is a lot to catch up on. There is some bad news and some very, very good news. I am personally a bad news first guy, so here goes:
#4 Men's team falls to #2 Wake Forest
Last week, I predicted that the All-Carolina showdown between the Tar Heels and Demon Deacons would prove to be one of the games of the year. It certainly lived up to the hype. The Tar Heels were handed a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Deacs, in an entertaining and brilliantly played match at UNC's home away from home in Cary.
The game, billed as a matchup between the two most explosive offenses in the country, proved to be a chess match between two of the nation's finest teams. Wake struck first, with an Omir Fernandez goal in the 39th minute. The goal was textbook Wake, a perfectly timed pass to a streaking wing that opened up a one-on-one with UNC goalkeeper Alec Smir.
The Tar Heels struck back just two minutes into the 2nd half when their all-world midfielder Cam Lindley drilled a free kick from just outside the box to equalize. It was Lindley's 6th goal of the year, to go with 8 assists.
The next 20 minutes of gameplay saw a very even, back and forth battle, with both sides having opportunities to take the lead. It was Wake Forest who finally did so in the 66th minute, when their own brilliant mid Jon Bakero tapped in a cross from Emu Twumasi.
The next 20 minutes of play showed Wake Forest at the peak of their powers. They displayed brilliant possession passing, keeping the ball away from the Tar Heels for full minutes at a time. The Heels fought doggedly, but the Demon Deacons slowly choked the game away, keeping the home team from mustering any kind of attack. When the Tar Heels did get the ball back, their passing lanes were shut down again and again by Wake defenders. At such periods of time, it was hard to imagine that there is a better team in America than the one from Winston-Salem.
Carolina's final push was ultimately unsuccessful and their nine-game winning streak came to an end, but they have nothing to hang their heads about. This was a phenomenal game and they were simply beaten by a team that was better on the night.
The Tar Heels will need to develop short memories the rest of the way this season because their labors ahead are Herculean. The latest RPI poll had Carolina ranked #3 in the country, part of a group of six ACC teams all ranked in a row: #2 Wake, #3 UNC, #4 Louisville, #5 Notre Dame, #6 Virginia, #7 Duke. That's utterly ridiculous. And the Heels face Louisville on Friday. Last week's battle was a setback, but the war is not nearly over.
#5 Women's Soccer Wins Two, Winning Streak at Six
On the bright side, the Women's team has been on a tear ever since the loss at Penn State one month ago. Since the 1-0 defeat on September 7th, the Heels have outscored their opponents 16-1, winning six, and recording three wins over ranked teams. Their last two victories came last week against Miami and #15 Wake Forest.
The win over the Hurricanes came on the road in Coral Gables. The Tar Heels came away 3-0 victors after a frustrating start to the game. The Tar Heels dominated the first half, outshooting Miami 10-4 and winning all 6 corner kicks in the half. But the Heels couldn't capitalize on their opportunities and the half ended scoreless.
That frustration evaporated three minutes into the 2nd half, when freshman phenom Alessia Russo scored a world-class solo goal. Weaving between multiple Miami defenders, she dribbled her way into the box, and fired her shot in from about a dozen yards out. This would prove to be the game winner, Russo's fourth such goal of the season and her fifth overall. Madison Schultz and Bridgette Andrzejewski would add goals to the final tally and the Tar Heels finished off the Canes comfortably.
Three days later, the Tar Heels recorded another road win by beating the #15 Demon Deacons in Winston-Salem. Carolina came away 2-0 winners in a game that was largely defined by defense: The two sides combined for just 11 shots for the whole game (UNC 7, Wake 4). But Carolina found the net in the 23rd minute when Russo scored her fifth game winning goal of the season on a flick-in off an Andrzejewski pass. The goal gave her six on the year and gave Andrzejewski her sixth assist.
The final blow came in the 70th minute on (yep, another) Russo goal from (yep, another) solo effort. The English-born striker sliced through the middle of the Wake defense, evaded a final defender and put her shot into the left corner to ice the game for the Tar Heels. Make that seven on the year for the red hot frosh.
The Heels now look forward to what would appear to be an easy finish to ACC play. None of their remaining opponents are ranked and the best of them (Louisville and Notre Dame) will have to play on Carolina's field.
This is very fortunate for UNC because they are currently neck and neck in a two team horserace for 1st place in the ACC. The other horse? The Duke Blue Devils. The Heels handed the Blue Devils a 2-1 defeat in a non-conference game on August 18th. Since then? The Blue Devils have won thirteen straight. Thirteen. They are, like UNC, undefeated in ACC play and have what appears to be daylight in front of them as well. First team to slip up will probably have to settle for second. If neither does? Then two teams will simultaneously finish perfect in the ACC for the first time ever.